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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

Hi, he says.

Marianne has accepted an offer to spend her third year of college in Sweden. She’ll be leaving in September and, depending on their plans for Christmas, Connell may not see her again until next June. People are always telling him he’s going to miss her, but until now he’s been looking forward to how long and intense their email correspondence will be while she’s away. Now he looks into her cold interpretive eyes and thinks: Okay, I will miss her. He feels ambivalent about this, as if it’s disloyal of him, because maybe he’s enjoying how she looks or some physical aspect of her closeness. He’s not sure what friends are allowed to enjoy about each other.

In a series of emails they exchanged recently about their own friendship, Marianne expressed her feelings about Connell mainly in terms of her sustained interest in his opinions and beliefs, the curiosity she feels about his life, and her instinct to survey his thoughts whenever she feels conflicted about anything. He expressed himself more in terms of identification, his sense of rooting for her and suffering with her when she suffers, his ability to perceive and sympathise with her motivations. Marianne thought this had something to do with gender roles. I think I just like you a lot as a person, he replied defensively. That’s actually very sweet, she wrote back.

Jamie comes down the steps behind them now and they all turn around to greet him. Connell makes a half-nodding gesture, just barely inclining his chin upwards. Jamie gives him a mocking smile and says: You’re looking rough, mate. Jamie has been a continual object of loathing and derision for Connell since he became Marianne’s boyfriend. For several months after he first saw them together Connell had compulsive fantasies about kicking Jamie in the head until his skull was the texture of wet newspaper. Once, after speaking to Jamie briefly at a party, Connell left the building and punched a brick wall so hard his hand started bleeding. Jamie is somehow both boring and hostile at the same time, always yawning and rolling his eyes when other people are speaking. And yet he is the most effortlessly confident person Connell has ever met. Nothing fazes him. He doesn’t seem capable of internal conflict. Connell can imagine him choking Marianne with his bare hands and feeling completely relaxed about it, which according to her he in fact does.

Marianne puts on a pot of coffee while Peggy cuts bread into slices and arranges olives and Parma ham onto plates. Elaine is telling them about Niall’s antics and Marianne is laughing in a generous way, not because the stories are so funny but to make Elaine feel welcome. Peggy passes plates around the table and Marianne touches Connell’s shoulder and hands him a cup of coffee. Because of the white dress and because of the small white china cup, he wants to say: You look like an angel. It’s not even something Helen would mind him saying, but he can’t talk like that in front of people anyway, saying whimsical affectionate things. He drinks the coffee, he eats some bread. The coffee is very hot and bitter and the bread is soft and fresh. He starts to feel tired.